Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

'Robosquirrel' deployed to research relationship with rattlesnakes

Researchers in California have built a robot squirrel in a bid to better understand real one's (pictured) behavior. Researchers in California have built a robot squirrel in a bid to better understand real one's (pictured) behavior.
HIDE CAPTION
Robot squirrel aids animal behavior study
<<
<
1
2
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Researchers in California create robot squirrel to study behavior of rattlesnakes
  • "Robosquirrel" replicates two key behaviors observed in the wild when confronted by the predator

(CNN) -- This might sound a bit nutty, but U.S. researchers are using robot squirrels to learn more about how real ones interact with their main predator, rattlesnakes.

The lifelike robot, built by a team from the University of California, Davis, can replicate two behaviors squirrels display when confronted by a rattlesnake.

Research by the late Donald Owings, professor of psychology at UC Davis, observed that rather than scamper off squirrels would approach a snake "head-first in an elongated posture, making flagging movements with their tails."

He also discovered their tails heat up, which is picked up by a snake's infrared sensor.

But in the wild there is no way to separate the "heat" and the "flagging," say researchers. And that's where the robot comes in.

Snakes will rarely strike a flagging adult squirrel, and if they do they almost always miss
Rulon Clark, University of California, Davis

Out in the field near San Jose, researchers set up "robosquirrel" and a video camera near a foraging snake before retreating out of sight.

The snakes observed appear to accept the robot as real, with one snake even biting the robot's head, according to researchers.

This doesn't happen often in the wild says Clark, because squirrels possess a "remarkable ability" to dodge a snake attack.

"Snakes will rarely strike a flagging adult squirrel, and if they do they almost always miss," said Rulon Clark, assistant professor of biology at San Diego State University.

It's still not clear why squirrels approach such a deadly predator, but Clark says they maybe trying to assess the nature of the threat. In some cases snakes will leave the area after an encounter.

"Robosquirrel" joins a growing list of robot creatures created by UC Davis which include a robot lizard -- used to study display behavior in anole lizards in the Puerto Rican jungle.

Another saw the use of a robot sage grouse hen to study their real-life mating habits.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:30 PM EST, Sun January 20, 2013
Patricia Wu looks at efforts to combat food waste in Hong Kong.
updated 9:33 PM EST, Sun January 13, 2013
CNN's Pauline Chiou goes to Hong Kong's annual toy fair to find out about the growing market for eco-friendly toys.
updated 11:15 PM EST, Sun December 30, 2012
CNN's Liz Neisloss reports on a roof that is only a sample of the greening of Singapore's skyline.
updated 9:16 PM EST, Tue December 18, 2012
A dam project in Cambodia could destroy livelihoods and ecosystems, says Conservation International
updated 10:22 PM EST, Mon December 17, 2012
Shipping lines, port authorities and technology companies are taking the initiative to go green and reduce costs.
updated 9:06 PM EST, Sun December 9, 2012
Less than 20 miles from Singapore's skyscrapers is a completely different set of high-rise towers.
updated 6:04 AM EST, Thu December 6, 2012
The Pitcairn Islands might only have 55 human inhabitants, but the waters surrounding them are teeming with marine life.
updated 10:22 PM EST, Sun December 2, 2012
Biofuel made from sugar cane waste in Brazil could revolutionize the global energy industry.
updated 9:58 PM EST, Sun November 25, 2012
Many believe that fuel-cell cars will overtake electric vehicles in the near future.
updated 3:20 AM EST, Mon November 19, 2012
Modern and sustainable buildings in the UAE are taking cues from an ancient Arabic design tradition.
updated 11:09 PM EST, Sun November 11, 2012
One man's artistic vision is distracting divers from Cancun's threatened underwater ecosystem.
updated 12:46 PM EST, Mon November 12, 2012
Lake Victoria, Africa's largest lake, has been plagued by water hyacinth plants for over two decades.
A turtle on Australia's Great Barrier Reef
Just how much are natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef worth in monetary terms?
ADVERTISEMENT